Review by horror_spooky

"We're going digital"

When I first started looking into possible WiiWare titles to add to my collection, one of the most promising-looking games was Cave Story. It looked like a neat and quirky adventure game. However, upon doing some more research, I discovered I could acquire the game for free on my PC. I mulled over whether or not I wanted to shell out the extra bones for a somewhat upgraded WiiWare version or if I wanted to simply download the free (albeit in Japanese without a patch) version on my computer. Obviously, as apparent by what platform this review is on, I chose the free PC version.

Cave Story is very unique. It combines elements from Zelda and Mega Man and also infuses a strong storytelling quality reminiscent of the kinds of tales found in the Final Fantasy adventures. It really takes a lot of what made these old NES games so great and puts them in a blender for some good old-fashioned retro awesomeness. But does everything click like it should?

Cave Story is a side-scrolling game with a lot more focus on puzzle-solving and adventuring than just straight-up combat and platforming. Don't get me wrong, there are sections of the game that are action-heavy, but the game seems more concerned with telling a story than polishing the gameplay, but we'll get to that a little bit later.

There's a lot of text and jibber-jabbing going on in the heavy-handed storyline, but there actually is a balanced amount of gameplay. The storyline, honestly, is not that amazing. A lot of people have played it out to be fantastic, but I was not blown away. When I think of good video game storylines, I look back at games that have really made me feel an emotional tug. Games like Red Dead Redemption, Grand Theft Auto IV, BioShock, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, and hell, even that depressing Christmas song from Elite Beat Agents made me feel like bawling my eyes out. Cave Story didn't connect with me on an emotional level. The characters are fantastic and loveable, and there's a lot of depth to all of them, even the seemingly one-dimensional enemies. The only problem is the game fails to make me care about the problems that the protagonists are facing. The twists and turns throughout the adventure are welcome and they add a layer of mystery and surprise to the story, but I was just expecting a lot more out of Cave Story when it came to the plot.

Getting back to the gameplay elements of Cave Story, the game has a big focus on adventuring. There is a lot of back-tracking involved, a lot of item collecting, and a lot of puzzle-solving. None of the puzzles are all that hard to figure out, but the game is a tad archaic. There are definitely times when the next objective isn't very clear. I suppose as gamers nowadays we are spoiled by having our hand held through many games, but Cave Story's presentation is just a little too archaic. Nostalgia-driven gamers may welcome this sense of cluelessness, but in this generation, I was hoping for a lot more.

The action segments are more entertaining than the puzzle solving and the adventuring. It doesn't take a whole lot of hits to take down our sheet-white protagonist, adding a nice challenge. There are plenty of opportunities for one-hit deaths in this game, which I love as I feel these elements make games way more challenging. There's a difference between archaic and challenging by the way, and I feel Cave Story hit the nail on the head with the platforming and shooting mechanics.

Platforming is a bit on the floaty side, but this lends itself to the gameplay. There are a few different weapons available for our hero to defeat the regular enemies and the engrossing, and difficult, boss fights encountered throughout the adventure. Instead of just having unchanging weapons throughout the entire game, players are able to upgrade each individual weapon, RPG-style. When damage is taken, however, levels lose their experience points. Each time a weapon levels up, it becomes more powerful, which is shown through visual representation. It's addicting and I actually found myself grinding with my weapons to collect the little Dorito-like experience points that fall out of dead enemies. My only gripe with this is that the experience points are tied to the weapon that was used to kill the enemy. I could kill an enemy with one weapon, then switch and level up a different weapon. This just didn't click right with me.

Cave Story is a strange game, with a lot of gameplay elements taken from third-generation titles seen on Nintendo's first major console. The graphics are not quite 8-bit, but they're not quite as good as one would expect. They are blocky and the main character in particular just doesn't look good. I know that this visual style was done on purpose, but the environments become repetitive and boring after too long. The hand-drawn, anime-like pictures of the characters that pop up in their text boxes look great, though. They add a lot more life and flair to the characters that wouldn't be there if they were absent. I didn't experience any glitches or anything like that in Cave Story either, which is a welcome change of pace in a day and age where practically every game is suffering from crippling technical issues.

Sometimes I just had to mute the sound in Cave Story. The audio is a mixed bag, much like the graphical presentation. There were tunes that were music to my ears, reminding me of the glory days of the NES. And there were some musical pieces that were just irritating. I think the good outweighs the bad in this case, though, and the majority of the music in Cave Story has a unique nostalgic-filled glory to it.

I played Cave Story off and on for a period of a few weeks, so it's hard for me to grasp exactly how much time I spent playing the game. Between deaths and having to figure out where to go next, I want to say somewhere between three and six hours. It's not a super-long game, and it would be even shorter if the cut-scenes weren't so text-heavy, but it's time well spent.

Cave Story is not the greatest thing in the world. It tends to exceed overwhelmingly in one area of gaming, but also fail to aspire above average in that same area. The storyline is a bit flat, but the characters are awesome and memorable. Most of the audio is fantastic, but some of it is just horrible. The visual style is necessary, but a bit boring. The gameplay is addicting and fresh even though it's a combination of classic mechanics we've been around for ages, but it's also a tad on the archaic side. Cave Story will appeal to many gamers, especially older ones who grew up with the third generation. And since it's free and will run on just about any PC, I highly recommend downloading this game and experiencing it for yourself. After all, free is good. And Cave Story is good.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 12/02/10

Game Release: Doukutsu Monogatari (JP, 12/20/04)

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